This newly discovered deep-sea siphonophore is about 45 cm (18 inches) long. The upper half of the colony consists of swimming bells that pulse like jellyfish to keep the colony moving through the water. The lower half carries hundreds of pale white stinging tentacles, which are used to capture small deep-sea fishes.
Image: (c) 2003 MBARI
This photograph shows the newly discovered siphonophores tentilla—tiny filaments that branch off the main tentacles. Each tentilla contains thousands of stinging cells. The red lures are on separate stalks, which move up and down, causing the lures to wiggle like swimming copepods (a typical food of small midwater fishes).
Image: Steven Haddock (c) 2004 MBARI
As successful fishermen know, if you want to catch fish, you have to use the right bait or lure. This is true even in the deep sea, where scientists recently discovered a new species of jelly that attracts fish by wiggling hundreds of glowing red lures. This is the first time any marine invertebrate has been found to use a bioluminescent lure or to display red bioluminescence. This discovery is described in an article written by Steven Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), along with several coauthors, in the July 8, 2005 issue of Science magazine.
It has been estimated that about 90 percent of deep-sea animals are bioluminescent. Yet in many cases, scientists do not know how these animals benefit from the energy-intensive process of producing their own light. Some jellies use bioluminescence as a defense—they glow when disturbed in order to light up their predators, making their attackers vulnerable to even larger animals. A few deep-sea fishes and squids have glowing organs that look like lures, but even these animals have never been observed actually using their glowing organs to capture prey.
MBARI marine biologist Steven Haddock has studied glowing marine animals for over a decade, focusing on gelatinous animals such the siphonophores described in his recent article. Related to the typical round "jellyfish" that sometimes wash up on beaches, siphonophores are colonial animals, arranged in chains that in some species can be dozens of meters long. The members of a colony specialize at different tasks. Some form swimming bells, which pulse slowly, pulling the colony through the water like a long, fluid freight train. Others specialize in feeding, and sport stinging tentacles.
Kim Fulton-Bennett | EurekAlert!
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